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Billy Sherwood - Citizen CD (album) cover

CITIZEN

Billy Sherwood

 

Crossover Prog

3.55 | 29 ratings

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Windhawk
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars US artist and composer Billy SHERWOOD is a rather well known name in the music business. His various tenures as a member of legendary progressive rock band Yes arguably his main claim to fame, but he has also been involved in numerous other bands and projects over the years. His solo career has been ongoing since the tail end of the 1990's, with eight studio albums released to date. "Citizen" is the most recent of these, and was released in the fall season of 2015 through Italian label Frontiers Music.

As Billy's career have been rather firmly tied in with the history of Yes for a few decades, an obvious question that will rise when he release a solo album is how close, or not, the music will be to the material made by that band, and especially when quite a few guest musicians that also have been members of that band have contributed. The answer to that question is, I guess, a yes and a no. There are similarities, most certainly, but no, this is not a Yes album released as someone's solo project.

The album as a whole is a conceptual one from what I understand, so those who find such ventures fascinating will have a concept to immerse themselves in, and the music at hand is a rather compelling one throughout, where the focus is on smooth, elegant themes and arrangements employed in compositions that tends to be fairly slowly paced. Those fond of dramatic effects, challenging escapades and instruments clearly highlighted as dominant features while going through technically challenging, virtuous territories will have to look elsewhere. While we are treated to a fair share of instrument solo runs and some of them rather virtuoso indeed, these are flavors provided without using the limelight to hone in on them as the central or dominant aspects of the compositions, instead they come across as one part of a total package, one element among many rather than the key element everything else builds up to.

Acoustic guitars and fairly careful, toned down guitar riffs and solo runs combine with layered keyboards throughout to form careful, elegant soundscapes, ranging from the relative sparse and fragile to the rich and majestic, with the bass guitar possibly having a slightly more central place in the arrangements by way of firm and at times booming basslines, but rarely if ever in a dramatic or dominant manner. Elegant and sophisticated comes across as key words for me to describe the totality, with subtle nuances and details used to add tension. I get the impression that a lot of work have gone into the mix and production here, and that this album is the kind that will reward the listeners by carefully unveiling additional detail upon repeated listens. There's a lot going on throughout, but the smooth, melody-oriented focus doesn't hone in on these details as such, and it usually will take multiple listens for most listeners to become aware of these.

The lead vocals and vocal harmonies, both by Billy and the occasional guest vocalists, all give me strong associations to the music of Yes, and then primarily the landscapes they have explored from the tail end of the 1980's and onward. I'm not an expert on that band by any means, so those who have a deeper knowledge of and experience with that band that I have may not concur to this description, but for me it's the vocals that adds that touch of Yes to the landscapes explored here first and foremost. Some nifty, atmospheric guitar solo details hovering in the background on occasion and the aforementioned bass guitar emphasize this somewhat, but at least for me the greater totality isn't all that similar: The songs on this album are generally slower paced and lacking the focus on dramatic movements and other features of a more bombastic nature I associate with Yes.

My main impression is that "Citizen" is a well made and excellently produced concept album, in terms of style residing somewhere in the neo-progressive oriented parts of the symphonic progressive rock universe. The main focus is on melodies and harmonies, and with the lead vocals given a lot of the limelight here. Which isn't all that unexpected presumably, as a concept is explored and stories are told. Those with a general taste for compelling, well made and well produced albums that arguably may be placed somewhere close to a neo progressive context comes across as a key audience for this album in my book.

Windhawk | 4/5 |

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